BU Today

Science & Tech

A Way Cool Wayfinder


Boston University can be an acronym-laden labyrinth, even for campus veterans. Just ask recent grad Kris Sullivan (CAS’07). As a senior, he was late for the first meeting of one fall class, because he couldn’t find the department of electrical and computer engineering (it’s on St. Mary’s Street).

“I thought it was in a totally different location,” says Sullivan, a computer science major who worked with Nicholas Angiolillo (CAS’07) in BU’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) to build an online tool that will help unlock the University’s geographic secrets.

With guidance from Richard Mendez, director of networked information services at OIT, and help from Mendez’s staff, Sullivan and Angiolillo created a BU version of Google Maps, the application that allows users to find addresses, businesses, and other landmarks (such as post offices or churches), along with directions, on maps that can be toggled to show street names, a satellite view, or both. BU Maps officially launched last month.

The main page of the new site is a map of the BU campus, stretching from Packard’s Corner to Kenmore Square and including an outline of the Medical Campus. Users can search for places ranging from academic buildings to Thai restaurants to Zipcar drop-off locations. After a search, they can click on a BU building or academic department name or map icon, and a small box will pop up with a picture of the building, street address and phone number, a Web site, the nearest T or bus stop, and a link for directions. They can also click boxes above the map to display information like parking lots and BU shuttle stops.

Building BU Maps became possible in 2006, when Google released a new application that allows users to customize its Maps feature for their own Web sites. In addition to the coding, says Mendez, much of the work involved accumulating data from University departments that had never before been collected in one spot.

“There was all this data that seemed to be imprisoned or forgotten,” he says.

Mendez encourages members of the BU community to write in, by using the site’s “contact” page, with more suggestions for searchable items. “If you have a collection of data and want it in our map, give it to us, and we’ll put it in,” he says. Users can also suggest what links should go at the top of a list returned by a keyword search.

In addition to tapping departmental Web sites and a Word document version of the BU Directory, the BU Maps creators relied on old-fashioned shoe leather in gathering information. Angiolillo and others spent a lot of time walking the Charles River and Medical Campuses, noting the location of services like ATMs and gathering business addresses. After Mendez showed the site to BU faculty and staff last spring, they added more information, such as locations where students can spend their dining and convenience points.

Sullivan and Angiolillo “have been working on this since last summer,” says Mendez. “I’m quite proud of them. They leave behind a nice legacy of work that many of us will benefit from.”

Meanwhile, work continues on phase two of BU Maps, which will allow much more personalization and will be integrated with other online BU resources, such as the BU Directory and calendar and the Student Link.

“I think the coolest thing will be the ‘my maps’ phase, where you can create a map with all of your classrooms, your dorm, and the places you hang out, and send that map to your friends,” says Sullivan, who continued to work on the project over the summer. “There are so many things I’d love to add to this.”

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.